Capturing Oregon: Sunset on the Old McKenzie Highway

July 29, 2015

Living in Bend, one can easily take for granted the wonderful view of the Three Sisters Mountains to the west. As a photographer, I have had the pleasure of enjoying so many beautiful crimson-colored sunsets as the cloud layers build up over these jagged peaks that I rarely find myself choosing them as a subject for a shoot.

The Old McKenzie Highway, near the town of Sisters, offers a very different scene for photographing this majestic range. A wasteland of scattered lava rocks surround this area along the McKenzie Pass. North Sisters towers over this violent and stark landscape, much like the fabled Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings’ Mittelerde.

To make this landscape even more bizarre, dead trees lie in stark contrast to the black lava, with their white bleached trucks scattered like bones of the deceased.

August through October provide the best light and perfect weather to shoot sunsets in this area. As you drive over the pass from the town of Sisters, there is a convenient pullout to the east. Here you can frame the trees with the mountains, utilizing the last rays of the sun. Those more adventurous photographers with sturdy shoes and a steady sense of balance can venture west, climbing into the lava fields to capture additional scenes of gnarled roots and trees with a magnificent back drop. Caution is advised as the lava rocks are extremely sharp and can easily shift underfoot.

Photographers remaining after the initial sunset are often treated to a wonderful “second” sunset when the sky lights up again in pink and purple color tones. This is the time when it is possible to capture low contrast, even images like the one shown here.

About The

Christian Heeb
Christian Heeb is a well know international Photographer who lives in Bend, Oregon. Christian has published over 120 books worldwide and his work appears in national and international publications. He is the author of the book Travel Photography and together with his wife and partner Regula Heeb runs the Cascade Center of Photography, a studio, workshop center and gallery devoted to photography in Bend. Christian also leads photo tours worldwide. He loves to share his love for Oregon with other photo enthusiasts and is a contributor to our "Capturing Oregon" photography series.